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LETTER: Loneliness can come to us all

I asked my daughters if they wanted to write something in the province’s book of condolences: yes, they said. But when they sat down to write, few words came. “I am sorry for your loss,” was the only sentence on the page.
Those few words hung heavy. I could feel the weight of their sadness in them. The horror and grief that swept over the province was embedded in those simple words.
Sometimes simple words are all that we have, all that we can give. Our hope is that our words might in the smallest of ways, help.
In the loneliness of your deep sorrow, you are not alone.
Imagine that when the spring songbirds, the warblers, the robins and the sparrows, sing outside your window, that they are singing just for you, telling you that life and love and beauty still exist in the world.
Imagine that when the sun comes up each morning, sometimes in the most surprising and most beautiful palette of pinks, purples and gold, that nature painted the sky as a gift just for you.
And on the days when the fog rolls in off the ocean and you can barely see the world outside your window, imagine that it is a blanket of goodness, there to protect you from all that is cruel and sad.
Imagine us, a small family, sitting not too far away on the edge of the ocean, imagining all the love and kindness that exists in the world – and sending it to you. - Allison Lawlor
Loneliness and solitude are not always the same thing. — 123RF Stock photo

Ah, look at all the lonely people…

All the lonely people

Where do they all come from?

Where do they all belong?

“Eleanor Rigby”, a 1966 song by the Beatles, reflects the human condition. Loneliness is common to all of us. It as universal as anxiety, worry, fear, depression, boredom and other mental and emotional discomforts. Today loneliness is becoming recognized as a major problem in our lives. While all of us are lonely at times, there are those who are lonely more often and for longer periods.

To experience loneliness is to feel empty, alone and unwanted. According to the medical journal The Lancet, large gaps remain in our understanding of loneliness, rates and the drivers of loneliness in different populations, its effect on health and well-being, and in the evidence on effective intervention. Loneliness is defined as a subjective negative experience that results from inadequate connection, but neither definition nor assessment of loneliness have achieved wide-scale consensus.

We are also told that in industrial countries about a third of the population is affected by loneliness, with one person in 12 affected severely. Loneliness is often stigmatized, trivialized or ignored, but it is emerging as a public health problem. Social isolation among the elderly is a serious problem, with greater risk of anxiety and depression, and even physical effects.

There is more research on loneliness today, including attempts to measure loneliness by using a loneliness scale. The UCLA Loneliness Scale goes back to 1978. It is a 20-item scale designed to measure our subjective feelings of loneliness.

Loneliness is often stigmatized, trivialized or ignored, but it is emerging as a public health problem.

In the United Kingdom, loneliness has come to the forefront with the government appointing a minister of loneliness in 2018. That stemmed, in part, from a 2017 report that 9 million people out of the population of 67 million feel lonely some or all of the time. While loneliness can affect anyone, some are more vulnerable, such as children, disabled people, carers, refugees and older people. It is likely that during the COVID-19 shutdown. loneliness was even more prevalent.

Living alone in itself doesn’t constitute loneliness but it may increase the risk, particularly for those who are house-bound. Some random data: in the U.S., 40 per cent of women live alone (8 million), while in Canada the number of people living alone has more than doubled in the last 35 years, from 1.7 million to 4 million. While living alone can foster a sense of independence, there are health and safety risks.

Living alone may be by choice or by circumstance. I expect for most it comes at a certain time in life and usually with social contact. There are some who choose total isolation and make a life-long commitment, such as monastics who choose to live as hermits within the confines of a religious tradition. There was one such period in the early church when thousands fled the distractions and diversions of normal life to seek solitude and silence in the desert as a way of encountering God more fully. They struggled with two questions: who am I? Who is God? These questions inform each other.

In one way or another, we all struggle with our identity. Know yourself; the truth shall make you free; to thine own self be true. There is a saying in the monastic tradition, “Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you all you need to know.” Modern psychology claims we don’t present our true selves to each other but instead hide behind our masks. Our masks are designed to impress others and conceal our true nature. All of us could use times of solitude and silence to examine more closely what we are really like — what Carl Jung calls our shadow side.

Everett Hobbs

Conception Bay South


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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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